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Review: Mariinsky Stradivarius Ensemble, Milton Court Concert Hall, London


The Berlin Phil, the Gewandhaus, and the CBSO have long done it, and now the Mariinsky are doing it too: sending a posse of top instrumentalists as chamber-music outriders to their main orchestral push. Making their British debut under Valery Gergiev in the Guildhall's new Milton Court auditorium, the Stradivarius Ensemble went through their paces with three works which showcased their instruments as much as their talent. For these were no ordinary instruments: Strads and Guarneris, Guandinis and Amatis, all from the golden age of string manufacture.

Grieg's "Holberg Suite" emerged decorous but full-blooded. Strauss's "Metamorphosen for 23 Solo Strings" was that composer's despairing threnody in 1944 for the destruction of everything he had lived for, as the German people starved and his beloved opera houses lay in ruins. Here the work's harmonic shifts succeeded each other silkily, like frames in a slide-show, with brief sunbursts of memory yielding to terminal collapse.

Rudolf Barshai's orchestral expansion of Shostakovich's "String Quartet No 8" – being that composer's threnody for himself – rang out with a dark-hued eloquence intensified by the brilliant acoustic of this lovely new hall, which could, if it chose, give Kings Place and the Wigmore a run for their money.